Many thanks to one of my readers for requesting a post about schools and the education system here in Colombia. I’ll be up front and say that as I don’t have children, this is an area which I have less experience of, but that as a teacher of English, I’ve heard quite a lot about. So here goes…
Public vs. Private
In Bogota, the common view I’ve gleaned from many people I’ve spoken to about the public/state school system (including young people who have recently been through it themselves) is that it is mediocre, at best; this is why anyone who can afford to will choose to send their children to a private school. The private school sector is a booming business in Bogota, and stretches across a large spectrum with regard to price and, to a certain extent, quality. As they are effectively businesses, the pressure on schools from paying parents to provide quality education for their children means that this will usually be delivered.
A list of the best private schools in Bogotá
This website (www.losmejorescolegios.com) is a good guide for the best secondary schools in Bogota (all private). Unfortunately it’s only in Spanish, though some of the bilingual schools have their individual pages in English. Each school’s page shows a break-down of costs in Colombian pesos: ‘Valor pensión’ relates to the monthly tuition fees; ‘Cafeteria’ means the monthly cost of school meals; and ‘Transporte’ relates to the monthly cost of the school bus service to and from school, which is offered by many, if not most, private schools. Tuition fees can cost anywhere between $300,000 pesos per month up to $3 million pesos per month; the most prestigious and exclusive bilingual schools or international schools will charge closer to the latter figure. You’ll find that there’s a big cluster of private schools in the far north of Bogota (around street 200 and above).
Some of the better private schools in Bogotá (and usually the most expensive ones!) are:
This brings me to the not-so-small matter (in my opinion) of the over-ambitious, sometimes deceptive use of the word ‘bilingual’, which an increasing number of schools seem to be adopting in their title. A word of warning: if you ever happen to be searching for a school in Bogota, be VERY suspicious about the word “bilingual”. This term is, in large part, used very loosely by many private schools and merely means that some subjects will be taught in English; the reality of the matter is usually that teachers of some subjects were at some point informed by the senior management that their school was turning bilingual, and that they would now need to teach their subject in English. This has resulted in students being taught subjects by a teacher often with an intermediate (or even pre-intermediate) level of English, and thus not only are they having to try to learn about a science subject, for example, in a foreign language (which can be tricky enough in your own language!), their exercise books are full of bad English that they’ve copied from the board (I have flicked through a few books in my time, and I guarantee you this is true!). The obvious consequence is that students are neither learning English well, nor probably the subject which is being taught. This is why we have so many teenagers wanting to study English at the British Council who are graduating from their ‘bilingual’ school with an elementary level of English, or pre-intermediate at best. In my view, only those schools at the upper end of the private school sector can truly be called bilingual (in the truest sense of the term i.e. the students are regularly communicating with each other in English during the school day!). In other words, do some research into the schools that you’re considering, and make sure that they really meet the standards that you expect.
The School Day
School generally starts at 7am and finishes around 3pm, which means that kids often get on the school bus at about 6am. My Colombian partner told me that the school he went to (Colegio Nueva York) offered lots of extra-curricular activities (such as horse-riding, music lessons, extreme-skating(!)) which children could participate in after school had finished, but these are usually at an extra cost. Extra activities often take place on Saturdays too, at public and private schools.
The School Year
The school year here runs on one of two calendars – either Calendar A (where the school year starts in January/February and finishes in November) or Calendar B (where the school year is from September to June). This varies from school to school, and is just according to the school’s preference. Children stay at secondary school until they are 16 or 17 (if they have never had to repeat a year) and leave with an average score across all subjects of between 1 and 5 (5 being the highest), unless they are at a school which teaches the International Baccalaureate. If their ambition is to go to university – and it usually is – they will go on to higher education straightaway, and most university courses last for five years.
I hope that this post has been useful, and if there’s anything I’ve missed out, please do leave a comment with your question, or drop me an email!
Are you moving to Bogota with children? What’s your biggest concern as a parent?